United States District Court, M.D. Pennsylvania
JAMES M. MUNLEY, District Judge.
Before the court for disposition is Defendant Mount Airy Casino's (hereinafter "defendant") motion for summary judgment. Plaintiff Michelle Pierce-Schmader (hereinafter "plaintiff") filed the instant lawsuit alleging that her former employer, the defendant, engaged in discrimination based upon her color/race, nationality and disabilities. After a period of discovery, the defendant filed the instant motion, and it is now ripe for disposition.
Plaintiff began working as a cocktail server for the defendant in Mount Pocono, Pennsylvania, in September 2007. (Doc. 8, Am. Compl. (hereinafter "Am. Compl.") ¶ 4). Defendant promoted plaintiff to the position of beverage shift manager in June 2008. (Id. ¶ 5).
On December 25, 2008, plaintiff suffered a work-related injury to her knee and underwent knee surgery in January 2009. (Id. ¶ 7). The surgery left plaintiff unable to work for a period of time, and plaintiff's doctor established various restrictions on plaintiff's return to work. For example, she was limited to lifting no more than forty (40) pounds; she was to be allowed to sit/stand as needed; to use ice as needed and to park close to the building. (Id. ¶ 8). Plaintiff alleges that defendant failed to properly accommodate her injury. (Id. ¶ 9). In fact, plaintiff avers that defendant gave her a heavier work load. (Id. ¶¶ 10, 12). In October 2009, plaintiff suffered another work-related injury, that is, she slipped and fell over a company floor waxing machine that was left unattended. (Id. ¶ 15).
In January 2010, plaintiff's immediate supervisor, Nelson Tavares, began treating her differently from other employees. (Id. ¶ 16). Plaintiff reported to the human resources department in April 2010 that she felt that he treated her differently due to her race. (Id. ¶ 17). Additionally, other beverage shift managers made negative comments about plaintiff and her physical limitations, for example, her inability to change kegs. (Id. ¶ 19).
Plaintiff underwent another surgery on her knee in May 2010. (Id. ¶ 22). She was also treated for a bulging disk in her neck and back. (Id. ¶ 23). Plaintiff's doctor removed her temporarily from work. (Id. ¶ 25). She was off from work from May 2, 2010 and medically released to return to work in February 2011. (Id. ¶¶ 26-27).
Plaintiff, however, had difficulty reaching defendant about returning to work. (Id. ¶ 27). Defendant did not answer her telephone calls. Finally, plaintiff went in person to defendant to ask for her job back. (Id. ¶¶ 27-28).
Defendant allowed plaintiff to return to work in April 2011. (Id. ¶ 29). Defendant did not provide her with the job she previously had as a food and beverage manager, but instead offered her a position in the laundry room located in the basement, where plaintiff folded linens and polished silverware. (Id. ¶¶ 29-30).
After several weeks of working in the basement, plaintiff began to experience increased pain in her knee and shoulder. (Id. ¶ 31). After contacting defendant's human resources department, defendant transferred her to an office position where she assisted other employees working in the Buyers and Financial Department. (Id. ¶ 33). Plaintiff's doctor removed her from work in June 2011 due to excessive swelling and pain that plaintiff suffered due to working in the basement. (Id. ¶ 35).
At some point previous to July 2011, plaintiff had filed a workers' compensation case regarding her work-related injuries. She settled the case on July 29, 2011. (Id. ¶ 36). As part of her workers' compensation agreement, plaintiff voluntarily resigned her position with defendant. (Id. ¶ 37). Even though plaintiff voluntarily submitted her resignation, she believes that defendant's actions prior to July 2011 were done in an attempt to obtain her resignation. (Id. ¶ 41).
Based upon these facts, plaintiff filed the instant four-count employment discrimination lawsuit. Count I of the amended complaint alleges racial discrimination, nationality discrimination and disability discrimination in violation of the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act, 43 PA. STAT. ANN. § 951, et seq. (Id. ¶¶ 53-59). Count II alleges a violation of the Americans with Disability Act (hereinafter "ADA"), 42 U.S.C. § 12101, et seq. (Id. ¶¶ 60-64). Count III is brought pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1981 and alleges unlawful discrimination in the making and enforcement of contracts. (Id. ¶¶ 64-75). Count IV asserts a violation of Title VII of the Federal Civil Rights Act of 1991, 42 U.S.C. § 2000(e). (Id. ¶¶ 76-79).
Plaintiff originally filed her complaint in the Monroe County Pennsylvania Court of Common Pleas. The defendant filed a notice of removal, bringing the case to this court on April 29, 2013. (Doc. 1, Not. of Rem.). Defendant then filed a motion to dismiss the complaint. (Doc. 6). In response to the motion to dismiss, plaintiff filed an amended complaint. (Doc. 8).
Defendant then moved to dismiss the amended complaint for failure to state a claim under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) as well as moving to strike. (Doc. 10). The court granted the motion to dismiss in part and denied it in part. (Doc. 14, Memo. & Order dated Sept. 11, 2013 at 17). The motion to dismiss on the basis that plaintiff had failed to allege a constructive discharge with regard to all of her claims was granted. (Id.) The court also granted the motion with respect to the following relief: reinstatement, front pay, back pay, benefits or other monetary or equitable employment-related damages. (Id.) The court denied the motion to dismiss the punitive damages claim and the remainder of the motion to dismiss. (Id.)
Subsequently, defendant filed an answer and the parties proceeded through discovery. At the end of the discovery period, the defendant filed the instant motion for summary judgment. The parties have briefed their respective positions, bringing the case to its present posture.
As this case is brought pursuant to various federal statutes for unlawful employment discrimination, we have jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. § 1331 ("The district courts shall have original jurisdiction of all civil actions arising under the Constitution, laws, or treaties of the United States."). We have supplemental jurisdiction over the plaintiff's state law claims pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1367.
Standard of review
Granting summary judgment is proper "if the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any, show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.'" See Knabe v. Boury, 114 F.3d 407, 410 n.4 (3d Cir. 1997) (quoting FED. R. CIV. P. 56(c)). "[T]his standard provides that the mere existence of some alleged factual dispute between the parties will not defeat an otherwise properly supported motion for summary judgment; the requirement is that there be no genuine issue of material fact." Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 247-48 (1986) (emphasis in original).
In considering a motion for summary judgment, the court must examine the facts in the light most favorable to the party opposing the motion. Int'l Raw Materials, Ltd. v. Stauffer Chem. Co., 898 F.2d 946, 949 (3d Cir. 1990). The burden is on the moving party to demonstrate that the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could not return a verdict for the non-moving party. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 248 (1986). A fact is material when it might affect the outcome of the suit under the governing law. Id. Where the non-moving party will bear the burden of proof at trial, the party moving for summary judgment may meet its burden by showing that the evidentiary materials of record, if reduced to admissible evidence, would be insufficient to carry the non-movant's burden of proof at trial. Celotex v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986). Once the moving party satisfies its burden, the burden shifts to the nonmoving party, who must go beyond its pleadings, and designate specific facts by the use of affidavits, depositions, admissions, or answers to interrogatories showing that there is a genuine issue for trial. Id. at 324.
In analyzing summary judgment motions in cases involving employment discrimination, a burden-shifting analysis is utilized which was set forth by the Supreme Court in McDonnell Douglas Corp. v. Green, 411 U.S. 792 (1973). The purpose of the burden-shifting review is to determine whether the plaintiff has established a prima facie case of discrimination. Geraci v. Moody-Tottrup, Int'l Inc., 82 F.3d 578, 580 (3d Cir. 1996). First, the plaintiff must establish unlawful discrimination. The burden then shifts to the employer to proffer a legitimate, nondiscriminatory reason for terminating her. Once the employer has offered a legitimate reason, the burden shifts back to the plaintiff to demonstrate that the proffered reason was merely pretextual. Id. (citing McDonnell Douglas, supra and Texas Dep't of Comm. Affairs v. Burdine, 450 U.S. 248, 252-56 (1981)).
Defendant's motion for summary judgment raises the following issues: 1) statute of limitations precludes all claims; 2) plaintiffs nationality and skin color/race discrimination claims fail on the merits; 3) plaintiff's retaliation claim fails on the merits; 4) plaintiff's disability discrimination claims fail on the merits; and 5) plaintiff has failed to establish any basis for the recovery of punitive damages. We will address these issues in turn.
I. Statute of Limitations
The first issue raised by the defendant is the statute of limitations. A claim of discrimination under the state law, the PHRA, must be filed within 180 days of the alleged discrimination. 43 PA. CONS. STAT. ANN. § 959(h). Claims of discrimination under the federal statutes, Title VII and the ADA, must be filed within 300 days of the discrimination. 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-5(e). In the instant case, the plaintiff's state law claims are identical to the federal claims. We will therefore analyze the statute of limitations based upon the longer of the two limits, the 300-day limit. Defendant alleges that all of the plaintiff's claims are time barred. We will address the different claims separately.
A. Discrimination and/or harassment under the PHRA and Title VII
The first claims that defendant attacks on statute of limitations grounds are plaintiff's claims of race and/or nationality discrimination/harassment under both Pennsylvania state law and federal law. Plaintiff initially raised these claims by dual filing a complaint with the PHRC and the EEOC on September 22, 2010. (Doc. 27-28, Defs.' Ex. 27, PHRC and EEOC Complaint (hereinafter "Pl.'s Initial Complaint")). The 300-day look back period thus runs back to November 29, 2009. For the complaints of discrimination to be timely, they must have occurred between November 29, 2009 and September 22, 2010. Events prior to November 29, 2009 are barred by limitations period.
Defendant argues that plaintiff has not presented evidence that defendant took any allegedly discriminatory actions against her during the applicable statutes of limitations. After a careful review, agree.
Plaintiff asserts various matters in support of the discrimination claim, including the following: several comments that were made by her supervisor/co-workers; general harassment that she asserts is tinged with ...